ST. PAUL (AP) - Neighboring Minnesota school districts are becoming companions at the fastest clip in years, with eight districts deciding to merge with another to save money.

State education officials say the consolidations are the most in the last 16 years. It's still nowhere near the dozens at a time that occurred in the mid-1990s.

But with lagging enrollment and tight funding, some districts are left with little choice.

Mergers can mean loss of local control, longer bus rides for kids and closed community school buildings. But they can also spare academic programs that one district can't support alone.

Minnesota now has 333 school districts, which is down about 100 compared with two decades ago. More than half the remaining districts have fewer than 1,000 enrolled students.